Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Capacity building...

While I have a fast Internet connection here at Heathrow airport I thought I would post a Mercy Ships video (see end of post). I can’t believe that the Africa Mercy will arrive in Sierra Leone in less than a week. And, to think that she will be docked within a 10-minute walk from where I work. I have to say I am looking forward to catching up with people onboard and meeting new faces. I also hope to experience some of screening and maybe watch an operation of one of my former patients with cancrum oris. However, I have to admit that it will also be very strange to have an additional 400 expats in Freetown. That will be a bit of a shock I think. : )

I like Mercy Ships new strategy of capacity building. It is along the same lines as what Welbodi Partnership does at the Children’s Hospital: training, equipping, facilitating and mentoring. All with the aim to empower nationals and enable them to do their jobs well. What we actually want to do is build capacity in the hospital so that they can then be involved with building capacity in the provinces! We realize this takes a lot of time and that’s why we’re in it for the long haul. We’re talking 10 or 15 years. Capacity building is not easy. Especially in a country like Sierra Leone, which is dependent on aid and foreigners coming in and ‘doing things’, it is very challenging. You need to break through the mindset that Sierra Leoneans can’t do it on their own and help them see that they can change things. You have to instill in them the will to make a difference. And then, with time and a lot of patience, things will start to change. From my experience, I find that motivation is one of the key aspects. If you can get nationals motivated, you can get them to become actively involved in making changes. But if they lack motivation, it is very difficult to move forward.

Thankfully, with capacity building, you don’t do it on your own. The most important aspect is that nationals are involved from the onset. For Welbodi, this means the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Hospital management and the hospital staff have all been key players since the start. We do not make decisions on our own; they are joint decisions. Ideally, it’s hospital management that takes the lead and shows us where our help is most needed. Obviously, this is still a learning process (for all of us!) and at times much guidance from us is needed. This is something we are still working on; putting systems in place so that management is more effective and so that they can also identify those areas in which we (and other partners) can best help the hospital. (Hopefully that made sense.)

Since Welbodi Partnership started at the hospital in 2007 we have definitely seen changes. Of course we still have a long way to go but that’s the nature of working in Sierra Leone and it’s the nature of capacity building: it’s slow but eventually you make progress. And remember, capacity building never ends because there is always room for improvement. When you make progress in one area, you move on to the next and at all times, in all areas, as things improve, standards are raised, and the work continues. Here’s to working towards lasting (and ongoing) change!

What are your thoughts on capacity building? Feel free to comment...

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